Good intentions, good movie


I have long been a firm believer in the idea that good intentions make for bad—or at the very least, boring—movies. I’m all for the brotherhood of man and all that jazz, but if a film doesn’t appeal at the very base level of visual and emotional entertainment, the message can’t help but get diluted. Usually, these types of films are just blandly noble enough to make you feel like a cad for hating them.

Sean Fine and Andrea Nix’s Academy Award-nominated War/Dance, on the other hand, is a well-intentioned movie that works. This colorful and moving documentary follows three Acholi refugee children from northern Uganda whose school prepares to compete in the prestigious National Music Competition.

War/Dance was co-produced by Shine Global, a nonprofit production company that focuses on documentaries about the abuse and exploitation of children around the world. As you can expect, War/Dance is hazy on the complex history of the religious, political and military conflicts in Uganda, instead choosing to focus on the inspiring stories of the three teenage refugees—Dominic, the former child soldier turned ambitious xylophonist; the singer Rose, whose father was butchered while her mother watched; and the soft-spoken, orphaned dancer Nancy, who longs to win a prize for performing the bwola, the Acholi’s tribal dance.

The film is great-looking, almost to a fault (are refugee camps really that hauntingly beautiful?), and the interviews with the children, while moving, sound a little too rehearsed to this cynic’s ears (“I can’t wait to see what peace looks like,” recites one of the performers on the eve of the competition).

But War/Dance gloriously springs to life during the remarkable music and dance performances, where the children’s joy of movement and expression is palpable and inspiring—especially in the face of such uncommon suffering.